In the first meeting this season between No. 4 Duke and No. 14 North Carolina, the Tar Heels were able to win for two important reasons. One was their use of multiple defenses to confuse the Blue Devils in the second half, turning Duke into a tentative offensive team that settled for far too many challenged perimeter looks. The second reason was the fact that North Carolina controlled the boards, out-rebounding Duke by 13 and limiting the Blue Devils to an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.2%.
On Saturday night North Carolina (23-8, 13-5) was unable to duplicate either feat, falling by the final score of 93-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 points to go along with nine rebounds, and Rodney Hood added 24 points for Duke (24-7, 13-5), who will be the three-seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The two offensive leaders combined to shoot 18-for-30 on Saturday night, a higher percentage than their 14-for-29 performance in the first meeting.
As a team Duke was better offensively, shooting 50.9% from the field and scoring 1.35 points per possession. The Tar Heels were capable of withstanding those offensive numbers as they shot 59.6% from the field, but that’s where the poor rebounding comes into play.
Duke managed to rebound 53.3% of its missed shots, and those extra opportunities led to 20 second-chance points. Entering Saturday’s game North Carolina ranked fourth in the ACC in defensive rebounding percentage, as they managed to grab 70% of opponents’ misses in conference games. And in their 12-game win streak the Tar Heels’ worst defensive rebounding effort came in their win over Pittsburgh, as Roy Williams’ team managed to grab just 58.5% of the Panthers’ misses. Obviously North Carolina didn’t perform to that level on Saturday night.
James Michael McAdoo dealt with foul trouble for much of the first half and Kennedy Meeks was under the weather, but North Carolina can’t win games of this magnitude when McAdoo fails to grab a single rebound. North Carolina big men combined to grab ten rebounds, and nine of those belonged to Brice Johnson. Simply put, that won’t cut it if the Tar Heels are to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament.
Clearly Marcus Paige is going to lead the way offensively, and his performance will have the greatest impact on the Tar Heels’ fortunes. But the front court will be important as well, and when those players aren’t productive it’s incredibly difficult for North Carolina to win games of this magnitude.